To heal a wounded heart. To find others who are understanding. To receive Christ's mercy. And to finally forgive oneself. These are just some of the graces women have received through Project Rachel.
Project Rachel was started in 1984 by Vicki Thorn in the Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisc. The ministry seeks to offer support to those suffering in the aftermath of abortion. It is traditionally a diocesan-based network of specially trained priests, religious, counselors and laypersons who provide a team response of care. It is open to all – people of all faiths or no faith.
Project Rachel is the "umbrella" term for all programs that involve weekly support groups, retreats, counseling and spiritual guidance. It is named after Rachel in the Bible, who weeps "for her lost children."
Rosanne Kouris started working with Project Rachel and underwent training offered by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) during her employment at Catholic Charities.
In 2018, while some aspects of Project Rachel were halted due to budget constraints at Catholic Charities, Kouris was able to continue Rachel's Vineyard when she came to work for the Diocese of Gary. As the coordinator of Family Life and Marriage Prep, she organizes the retreats several times a year.
Rachel's Vineyard provides a safe place to renew, rebuild and redeem hearts broken by abortion. The weekend retreats offer a supportive, confidential and non-judgmental environment where women and men can express, release and reconcile painful post-abortive emotions to begin the process of restoration, renewal and healing.
Since abortion is usually a carefully guarded secret, many people find it hard to process their experience and acknowledge their emotions. Buried feelings can cause other problems, even years after the abortion, such as eating disorders, depression, guilt, drug and alcohol abuse, intense sorrow, worthlessness, anger, flashbacks, panic attacks, suicidal urges, feelings of abandonment by God and the inability to forgive oneself.
“Most men and women, because the wound of abortion is so deep, can’t get over it just by going to confession," Kouris said. "They should be – the grace is there, and the sin is forgiven –\ but they themselves can’t forgive themselves and that’s what we hear over and over again.”
Kouris describes the retreats as intense and biblically based. She is often pleasantly surprised by women who appear unready to begin the healing process but end up finding a sense of peace by the end of the three days.
“It works every time. It's just amazing," she said. "Friday night they come in and everyone is crying. Then the masks start to drop as you get into some of the exercises. They start being real with themselves and there's a lot of tears and a lot of guilt and shame … and by Sunday there’s tears, but it's tears of joy. It’s totally different."
For Kouris, watching the transformation in the women is like witnessing a type of resurrection. It's those moments, she explained, that are the reason why she got involved in the ministry. “To be there and to walk with these people and experience that is a boost to your own faith and an absolute wonder at the miracles that God can perform,” Kouris said.
Kouris also pointed out that it's not only women that need healing after abortion – men can also suffer from loss. For example, she met a grandfather who drove his granddaughter to an abortion clinic and continued to struggle with the guilt during the decades that followed.
Kouris acknowledges that the topic of abortion is unpleasant but hopes to continue spreading awareness of programs like Rachel's Vineyard. She is also optimistic that more services of Project Rachel can be revitalized within the Diocese of Gary in the future.
“I would like for it to be well-known,” she said. “I always get told when I go to churches that they are so surprised that they’ve never heard of it before. And they are so surprised that the Catholic church supports a program like this.”
Rachel Vineyard retreats are held in the spring and fall in Michigan City. To register, call 552-2944 or email email@example.com. All inquiries are confidential.
“Rachel’s Vineyard is an important retreat which offers an encounter with the Lord in word and sacrament to bring about healing and restoration of the soul from the wound of abortion,” said Sean Martin, director of evangelization, catechesis and family life. “It certainly is a compassionate and loving apostolate.”